Thursday, February 21, 2008

Anticipating TED

As the time for TED draws nearer, my excitement starts to build.

This year, I've found an increasing number of people who know just what a treat I'm heading to. The availability of TED speakers online has definitely increased the number of people who can appreciate the TED experience.

I've just finished reading one of theTED book club selections, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The title derives from the notion that until you've seen a black swan, you tend to believe that all swans are by definition white. While seeing nothing but white swans for decades doesn't prove that all swans are white, seeing one black swan does prove the negative. Similarly, the fact that the farmer has fed the turkey every day and treated it well, doesn't prepare the turkey for the fateful day just before Thanksgiving when the pattern changes dramatically, unexpectedly and catastrophically - the turkey's black swan day. These Black Swan Events, while rare, have a huge impact on the course of history, yet people tend to underestimate the likelihood and magnitude of them. This is exacerbated by a very flawed belief that most things follow a Guassian (normal or Bell curve) distribution suggesting that most events or observations cluster around the mean. This is only true for a few categories of things.

The book was quite dense and at times bleak to read, and Taleb was not inhibited by any tendency to soften his works when he described economics practitioners he didn't respect! I wouldn't be surprised to see some real fireworks when he speaks at TED.

I just saw a black swan on a visit to the Phoenix Wildlife Zoo and thought it would be great to include in this post.

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